TESOL Success Stories
As part of its 50th Anniversary celebration, TESOL International Association recognizes teacher and student success stories. Your stories show the impact that TESOL teachers can have on their students and the impact that students can have on the world.
The stories published here were chosen by the 50th Anniversary Team.
The Story Of Arifa
Submitted by Lisa G. Currie, adjunct professor of ESL and developmental English, Lord Fairfax Community College, Middletown, Virginia, USA
When I met Arifa in 2003, a fourteen-year-old Afghan native whose entry into public education had begun September 6, 2001, the girl did not understand the stares, the comments, or the contempt the community cast in her direction after September 11th. She did not comprehend the international events that had occurred five days after her entrance.
She spoke little to no English and lacked the educational background to understand global relations, geographic space and social misunderstandingsl. An orthodox Muslim who had been dropped into a rural Protestant Virginia community, Arifa’s only understanding was that she was in school, walking school corridors with other boys and girls, going to classes, and riding a school bus. In the back of her mind, her dream of college was forming.
But the gossamer college image began to fade: Besides trying to categorize seven years of lost education and grasp American social and cultural mores, Arifa was a full-time translator for her parents and three younger sisters, even though Arifa’s English skills were only developing. Between trying to learn English and apply the language to content subjects, which were never clear due to the lack of earlier educational opportunities, Arifa was obligated to her family’s needs. Combined with classwork, she accompanied her parents and sisters at all hours of the day and night to doctor appointments, visits to social services, insurance offices, and emergency rooms.
During these long high school days, classroom instruction failed to fill in the educational gaps and after-school and evening tutorial sessions with me only brought more frustration. It was then that Arifa admitted that her Afghan background, lack of transportation, father’s misunderstanding of higher education, and her fledgling language skills were monumental hurdles too difficult to overcome: College was but a dream. At that point, we made a pack to make the dream come true.
Four grueling years later, Arifa was recognized at her high school graduation for her personal educational accomplishments: an advanced degree diploma after only five years of real education and three local scholarships to the community college. After convincing her doubtful and cautious father that the community college was a safe place and completing financial aid forms, I took Arifa to campus, waited for her to complete the class, and returned her home safely. Spending hours in tutorials, Arifa was able to manage only two or three classes per semester because, besides class and hours of homework, she would spend nearly fifteen hours a week with various tutors. Sleep hours were the hours sacrificed as Arifa remained the family translator.
After five years, Arifa earned her associate's degree in science and became a phlebotomist. She got a job at the local hospital after graduation. Her income exceeded her father’s income within the first six months. Following in her footsteps--with their father’s blessings--are three younger sisters. Arifa’s educational determination has become the family’s educational model not only for her sisters but for numerous female cousins.
The Story Of Giana Salomon
Submitted by Hillary Gardner, director, Center for Immigrant Education and Training and the New York City Welcome Back Center, LaGuardia Community College, Long Island City, New York, USA
The New York City Welcome Back Center at LaGuardia Community College is proud to nominate Giana Salomon as an exemplary student and model success story. Giana’s dedication to her chosen profession of nursing is an inspiration, but for years Giana was turned away from helping others due to her status as a nonnative speaker. Nevertheless, Giana persisted in her educational and professional goals and now works as a registered nurse for the New York City public school system.
Giana came to the U.S. after an earthquake devastated her home country of Haiti in 2010. She and her husband took the difficult decision to leave their professional jobs. In Haiti, Giana had worked as an emergency room nurse for seven years, but she found it hard to transfer her training and experience to the U.S.
Read the rest of Giana’s story.
Groping In The Dark
Submitted by Gladys Focho, EFL teacher, faculty officer, Faculty of Science, University of Bamenda, Cameroon
The new school year had just begun and this was my first class with this lower six class (junior high school). As the lesson progressed, my excitement waned when I heard the noise of what sounded like a typing machine. In trying to find out, the following conversation ensued.
“Who is making that noise?” I asked.
“It is Tonlieu, Madam,” came the steady reply.
“Who is Tonlieu and what is he doing?” I walked around, trying to locate Tonlieu amongst eighty students. “He is typing the Braille because he cannot see, Madam.”
“What is the word for someone who cannot see?," I asked. “Anyway think about that; we’ll discuss it later.”
That was the teacher in me, trying to be correct despite the circumstances, but a student shouted the right answer from the back of the class. Many things were running through my head; no one ever told me there would be a blind student in my class, and I was never taught how to teach the blind during my teacher training program. In any case I tried to draw Tonlieu into a conversation and make him feel comfortable, but he refused to utter a word. I devised other impromptu means to keep him engaged during the lesson.
Read the rest of Tonlieu’s story.
The Story Of Divine Tsasa
Submitted by Rejane McCorkel, ELL teacher, Francis Hammond Middle School, Alexandria City Public Schools, Alexandria, Virginia, USA
Drive. Divine Tsasa had the drive to make the U.S. her new home and succeed in this new environment.
It was September 2013 when I met Divine. She was shy and quiet. She looked afraid and uncertain how to navigate her new school. She didn't speak a word of English. To help her, I often had to dust off my poor French so she could engage with her peers and assignments.
That year, Divine was placed in a cohort of co-taught classes in which she had a content and an ESL teacher available for all content-areas. She was also enrolled in a reading class for extra support. By second quarter, Divine was starting to make her first sentences. Despite her shyness, she would raise her hand and participate regardless of her lack of proficiency. She would also ask teachers for after school tutoring sessions. A dictionary was now her new friend and whenever she wanted to know a word or two, she would open it up. She was determined to do her best.
Read the rest of Divine’s story.
The Story Of Jean Blain
Submitted by Susan Matson, director of teacher training and development, ELS Educational Services, Princeton, New Jersey, USA
The year was 1991 in Haiti, the beautiful but historically troubled island nation originally colonized by former slaves. After the chaotic and despotic reign of dictators Papa Doc Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude, an uneasy peace was established. And in 1990, a former Catholic priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was democratically elected to the presidency; those hopes were dashed when a military-led coup d-état removed Aristide and violence again swept the island nation.
It was all too much for primary school teacher Jean Blain. While he was able to eke out a living in a village about 30 minutes from the capital, it was tough going: A typical classroom had 50 students, and he was expected to teach all subjects, sometimes for students ranging from preschool age all the way to seventh grade. The military began to act, imprisoning or killing its suspected enemies; school teachers were thought to teach anti-governmental politics, and rumor had it that he was about to become a target.
Read the rest of Jean’s story.
Xenia's Own Story and Mike's Story
Submitted by Xenia Metaxa, adjunct professor, Saint Louis University, USA, and academic director, XTMPI Private Institute, Limassol, Cyprus
You see, I used to dream a lot before the war. Dreams! We were poor; poor in material things, but rich in dreams. We created miracles with our dreams, we travelled everywhere with our dreams. Those dreams were carved under the brilliant Mediterranean sun. And we were not afraid. This soul bravery of ours had to do with our tree climbing, our barefoot races in the fields, our struggle to find solutions to our problems, to love with our bare souls. Yes, we used to dream and we were not afraid…until the war sirens and the army tanks taught us how to be afraid… that summer of 1974; and then we were in danger of forgetting how to dream.
That’s when learning English came to my rescue. I was 10, devastated by war and death. But learning English saved me. It allowed my mind to travel around the planet. I met people who knew how to look at fear straight in the eyes, who taught me that I can step on my own feet and feel strong and see life from different perspectives. I felt like flying without wings, I gained a new voice that gave me access to a new world, other than my tiny island; a world I did not know, a world I was eager to meet.
Read the rest of Xenia’s story, and Mike’s story.